Studio Campfire Stories: ‘Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey’ Edition – “Milk and Honey” / “Work It To The Top”

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Let me just start this story off with this fact… “Milk and Honey” was the very first song that Nicolay and I created when we got together in February 2014 at his studio in Wilmington, NC. The FIRST jam. When I say that any and all doubts he and I may have had about working with another producer were thrown outta the window after this one. Trust me… To me, hearing how this song came together was clear and uncut proof that this collaborative production was supposed to happen.

Scheduled studio time was to begin on February 10, 2014, cold as shit outside, but the precipitation held off fairly well for my drive down from Silver Spring, MD to Wilmington, NC. I had never driven that six-hour stretch before as the only cities I had driven to in NC previously were Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte, which is also a six-hour drive, but to the west of I-95 – Taking the drive east off of I-95 South was new… I loaded my car up with a few weapons: The Nord Lead 2, Moog Little Phatty, and my 5-string bass guitar. Although it was only the three studio items, I remember it feeling like I was loading up to play a damn show somewhere. Regardless, once I arrived the set-up process was a quick one. I took a quick look at everything Nic had in the studio and I can remember pretty much getting right to work. The Fender Rhodes piano was powered up and ready to go, so I started messing around on it and came up with a chord progression… JUST from that progression, Nicolay started constructing these Brazilian jazz-influenced drums around what I was playing that had me buggin’ OUT. Once again y’all… This was the FIRST thing we started working on and I was already thinking, “This is about to be something SPECIAL.” This was also the first time I had gotten to see Nic program his drums, which was something short of phenomenal in and of itself, all the way down to the breaks and drum fills. DOPE. From there I can remember coming up with a change and then the melody line that lead back into the main groove and then recording the different parts (seeing Nic program the drums around that line was NUTS). Over the drums, we recorded my chords first via the Rhodes and went all the way through the song, no looping, no flying parts… Played it straight through. Same with the synth bass, which I played on that trusty Moog Little Phatty… straight through. That part was FUUUUUUN to play. An extremely loose and free bassline that I wanted to kind of directly complement the movement of Nic’s drums while also serving as the glue between them and the Rhodes parts that at the time seemed to be floating freely. When the string and flute parts were laid, we had a solid enough foundation to send off to Phonte….

Months later… I remember hearing “Milk And Honey” the first time with Phonte and Shana Tucker’s vocals on it… I damn near lost my mind. This song probably should have been named, “+FE Music Is On The Same Page And Shit” because when I heard what they did, I literally said aloud, “That’s EXACTLY what this song needed!!” From the chants, to the murderous harmonies on the words at the very end of some of the phrases… They knew what to do with this song. And when Shana came in on her solo part, it felt like Natalie Cole coming in on my favorite song of her’s, “La Costa”. I’m actually getting goose bumps while typing this now. SO very refreshing to hear. Then Nic sent me another updated version where he added acoustic guitar over the key change, the sound effect (heard at 1:29), and that quick four-note synth line over the final hook…. NOW the song was REALLY speaking, good gracious.

BUT WAIT

Let’s go right back to that February 2014 studio session with Nic and I…

So, after about the 20th playback on the “Milk And Honey” instrumental, we were deciding if we should add more to it or leave it for later and simply move on to something new. I happened to notice that there was a kick on all four beats (in each measure) and just to experiment with it, I asked Nic to let the kick keep going as a “four to the floor” pattern. And on the Moog, I messed around with a minor bassline groove that sounded VERY early 80’s. I’m pretty sure this was verbalized…

“Yooooo!! It would be CRAZY for this joint to go from a ‘Brazilian jazz’ feel to ’80’s funk.'”

Once that was established, I remember messing around with the bassline some more while Nic went IN once again on the drum pattern. To hear him construct these 80’s sounding drums was a damn work of art. He switched the kick to sound more like something from a drum machine and combined a live drum kit with some Roland TR-808 sounds, it was NUTS. When he added that damn double 808 clap at the end of the phrases?!?!?!??? Sheeeeeeeiiiit. We were THERE. I recorded the bassline and Rhodes parts along with the couple of blips and beeps on the synth… and Nic finished it off with more synth work to fill the song out even more. We had successfully gone from one genre of music to another in the matter of seconds and loved every minute of it. A studio party was already happening with just the instrumental, so imagine what happened upon hearing Phonte channel Steve Arrington on the damn joint. I heard that shit and hit him up like, “YOOOO… We perform this joint live ….IT’S OVER!! We ALL gotta have mics!!” Tamisha Waden came in on the hook with the big, hollerin’ ass vocals, which were VERY “80’s uptempo” and it worked so well with what was happening. To top everything off…. a jive ass “HUH!!!” right in the middle of the hook. I think it was literally at that moment that I felt like we were making the music we grew up on – FUN music. This is stuff that we’ll enjoy performing just as much as we enjoyed making it. Everyone asks when there will be another Zo! & Tigallo Love The 80’s album…. Well here you go: Zo!, Nic & Tigallo Love the Originals.

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